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By Nathan Costa, Assistant Director of Music & Liturgist
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (also called “Candlemas”), celebrated on February 2, marks 40 days after the birth of Jesus when Mary and Joseph, following Jewish custom for first-born children, brought their son to the temple to be blessed and dedicated to God. There the priest Simeon and prophet Anna, who had been waiting faithfully all their lives for the coming of the Messiah, announced their lives complete and foretold amazing things for the life of Christ—that he would be a light to the nations and a glory to the Jewish people, and also, with more foreboding, that he was destined for the rise and fall of many people, he would encounter opposition, and a sword would pierce Mary’s soul, too.
These confusing and mixed prophesies, and the liturgy that accompanies them, lay forth the life of Christ in both its glory and its pain. This feast day looks back to the birth and infancy of Jesus and is in fact the final, outlying feast of Christmas in the church calendar; at the same time it looks ahead to the cross and to Easter—in the prophecy of Mary’s suffering, in the blessing of light and candles (from which the service gets its other name, “Candle Mass”), and the procession of light into the church, as at the Easter Vigil. It is also another significant “epiphany,” or revelation, of God in human flesh to the world: at the Feast of the Epiphany Christ appears to “Gentiles,” non-Jewish magi, who left their homes and traveled thousands of miles following a star; now in the Temple he appears to a devout Jewish priest and prophet who have been waiting faithfully their whole lives in one place for the coming of the Messiah.
This feast thus proclaims Christ as “light for all the world to see”; it recognizes in Simeon and Anna long and full lives of dedication and hope and shows to us all the fulfillment of God’s promise.